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SMS Earth Drive

SMS EARTH DRIVE - The Earth Drive is made by Sarno Music Solutions. SMS also makes the SMS Classic Tube Preamp, which is vary similar to the Alembic F2-B preamp David Gilmour has used for a long time as the preamp for his Hiwatts. This review was written primarily for Gilmour gear heads, and focuses mainly on leads, not rhythm, so keep that in mind. I think anyone can get an idea how it stacks up against other drives though. The Earth Drive is a very smooth overdrive pedal. My favorite overdrives are the BK Butler Tube Driver, Keeley modded Boss Blues Driver, and Colorsound Overdriver. I have tried LOTS of others, including various Tube Screamers and variants, but I always go back to those three. The ED is more in the Blues Driver and Tube Screamer territory, but voiced somehwher in between. A much better voice than the BD I might add, and much better than any Tube Screamer, but I never cared for mid-humped Tube Screamers.

I look for two things in an overdrive - smooth and warm drive, and capability to bend with a Big Muff and other distortion pedals.

First, the overdrive. At the low drive setting it is just a step above my clean guitar signal (typically a Strat into a Reeves Custom 50 and Fender Twin reverb). At max drive setting it has about as much gain/crunch as the Tube Driver or Blues Driver at 75% drive, and about the same as a typical Tube Screamer. Not over the top, and definitely not into distortion pedal territory, but just enough overdrive for me. That is with my clean amps. Going through my slightly dirty Mesa 5:25, it blends really well and has a much more high gain sound when the ED drive is maxed. Perfect for Shine On, Coming Back to Life, Echoes, Dark Side of the Moon, et cetera. Anything with a Strat sounds good through this little box. I found it had a nice small Fenderish ampy overdrive sound, very similar to a Keeley Blues Driver, with a bit of Cornish G-2 thrown in. Very warm and smooth. Both the BD and TD can be a bit harsh at certain settings. I could not find a harsh tone/drive setting on the ED. In some respects it sounds similar to a BKB Tube Driver, but again, the ED sounds smoother, more compressed, and is voiced a bit differently. For most of the Gilmour solos I tried with a compressor and delay, it sounds very close to the TD. Overall I really dig the overdrive tones.

The ED has no bass control, as Brad at SMS wanted to keep it neutral and not add any unwanted EQ distortion or phase. The tone control is very responsive and interactive with the drive setting. I was able to get a wide range of overdrive tones, none of which I found useless. Even with the tone control on 10, the tones sounded good on both neck and bridge pickups. Not so with many of my other overdrives. For those of you who could not get along with the Tube Driver, you should seriously give this one a try. I think it is tailor made for Gilmour tones. For those of you who never had any luck boosting or blending an OD with your Big Muff, you can’t find an easier one to do it with that this pedal.

I placed the ED a few different places in the signal chain. Buffered and unbuffered pedals nearby seemed to have no affect on the ED, unlike the Tube Driver. Noise level is very low at high gain. The enclosure is sturdy sheet metal box. Four screws, easy access to the 9v battery. True bypass. Standard Boss adapter jack. About the size of a Boss, but slightly longer.

SOUND CLIPS

Here is some rhythm stuff. Excuse the sloppy rockabilly crap in the beginning. Strat into Reeves Custom 50 and Fender Twin Reverb.
Clip 1

Here is a bit of solo noodling at different gain settings, with a bit of rhythm stuff. Strat into Reeves Custom 50 and Fender Twin Reverb.
Clip 2

Here is the pedal at about 40% drive, and then at full drive. Strat with EMG SA pickups into a Reeves Custom 50 and Fender Twin Reverb.
Clip 3

PINK FLOYD / GILMOURISH SOUND CLIPS

Pink Floyd's Coming Back to Life, first solo. EMG Strat, SPC on 5, Boss CE-2,TC Nova delay. Excuse the bad bends.
Clip 4

Pink Floyd's Coming Back to Life, second solo. Boss CS-2 compressor added.
Clip 5

Pink Floyd's Shine on You Crazy Diamond, third solo. Strat with EMG SA pickups. CS-2, Nova with short slapback delay, same amps.
Clip 6

Same as above but with a long delay on the Nova.
Clip 7

Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall II solo. Strat with CS 69 neck pickup. CS-2, Nova, same amps.
Clip 8

Now for the Big Muff blender. You guys know I am into Big Muff pedals big time. I have blended/boosted just about everything into a Muff to see what it sounds like. There are two reasons for combining drive pedal with a Muff. As a booster for the gain or volume of the Big Muff, and/or to color the Big muff tone by blending the two pedals, which usually means smoothing the Muff out to tame the harshness or fizz. Some drive pedals sound better when running in front of the Muff, some after. One way usually gives you a grittier tone, and the other a smoother tone. The Earth Drive works as a smooth blend pedal for the Muff, and works best following it in the signal chain. As far as smoothness, nothing I have tried beats it.

Here is an example a "Civil War" Russian Big Muff with the Earth Drive. Strat with EMG SA pickups, Boss CS-2, CE-2, TC Nova Delay. Reeves Custom 50 and Fender Twin Reverb.
Clip 9

Here is one of my harsher Ram’s head Big Muffs being tamed by the Earth Drive.
Clip 10

NOTE - I have listed the gear and settings I use in most cases, for reference, but note that the tones may not exactly match your rig, depending on which amp you use, your guitar, pickups, and fingers.

Review written in 2011